August 19, 2011
Proponents of anonymous online postings recently scored a victory when an Ontario court denied a request by a former mayor to order the disclosure of the identities of three individuals who allegedly defamed her in an online forum.
In Morris v. Johnson,  O.J. No. 3368, Phyllis Morris, the former mayor of the Ontario town of Aurora, brought an action against William Johnson, allegedly the moderator of the Auroracitizen.ca blog, and two other defendants associated with the website, none of whom were alleged to have authored the comments at issue written during an October 2010 mayoral race that she lost.
Morris wanted to know who John Doe, James Doe and Jane Doe were so she could commence a $6-million defamation suit against them and other named defendants. However, the former mayor did not identify to the court the words she believed were defamatory – and that, in part, led the court to rule against her request.
In a factum, Alexander Smith, counsel for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association – which was granted leave to intervene as a friend of the court in Morris – argued that while Internet users' anonymity "should not be protected absolutely, the anonymity of Internet users engaged in commenting on and criticizing an elected public official in the performance of his or her duties should be afforded significant protection since," in part, "the very threat of exposure of one's identity as a result of being sued by an elected public official for criticizing that official may have a chilling effect on political expression."